Common Yew tree identification

The Common Yew Taxus baccata is a conifer native to Europe, Turkey and Iran. It grows naturally in Britain on chalk downs and limestones and in oak woodlands. It has been planted for centuries in churchyards, parks, formal gardens and hedges. It is slow growing and long-lived and some trees are more than 1000 years old. The Irish Yew Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ is a cultivated variety of the Common Yew found on an estate in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland in 1765. It is now found in churchyards and formal gardens everywhere. 

Common Yew tree identification – needles on either side of new green shoot, red berry-like cones known as arils, purple bark. Although the tree is a conifer, it has a cone that looks like a berry. The seed in the cone is poisonous but the bright red ‘aril’ that surrounds it is not. Yews have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another tree. Technically they are called ‘dioecious’ from the Greek meaning ‘2 households’.

common yew tree

A typical churchyard Yew.

common yew tree leaves

The glossy needles lie flat on either side of the shoot like many other conifers but new growth is green for 3 years and then the shoot becomes brown.

common yew tree

An ancient Yew in an oak woodland in The Lake District.

common yew tree pollen cones

Male ‘flowers’ shedding pollen in April.

common yew tree cones

The cone of the Yew is known as an ‘aril’. It looks like a berry but is in fact a fleshy growth that surrounds the conifer seed and is attractive to birds. The seed, which is poisonous, is dispersed in the droppings of the birds. Photo taken in October.

common yew treee bark

The bark of old trees looks purple.